Pope Francis Leads The Stations of The Cross At The Colosseum
Pope Francis attends the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on March 30, 2018 in Rome, Italy.

By Rev. Irene Monroe October 28, 2020

Pope Francis has expressed support for civil unions in the Catholic Church in a new documentary, which premiered last week. Once again, the pontiff has sent shockwaves across the globe to 1.3 billion of his followers with another LGBTQ- affirming statement.

However, this one might very well create talks of a schism in the Catholic Church, as we have seen in Protestant ones.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Francis said in Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky’s documentary “Francesco,” which premiered last week.

Sadly, Francis’ statement is not a Hallelujah moment for many LGBTQ Catholics. Rather, it is being celebrated with cautious optimism.

“If true, the Pope’s comments could represent an international game-changer and a major step forward for LGBTQI equality,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an LGBTQ faith organization headquartered in Boston, in a press release. “Civil unions laws can provide essential legal protections to LGBTQI couples and their children. We hope that Catholic officials worldwide will work to provide essential legal and social protections for LGBTQI people and their families.”

Francis’ statement about civil unions does not mean he or the church embrace marriage equality. In an interview for the 2017 book “A Future of Faith: The Path of Change in Politics and Society,” he said that marriage should be “between a man and a woman.”

“‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Forever, throughout humanity and not only in the church, it’s been between a man and a woman. You can’t change it just like that. It’s the nature of things. That’s how they are. So, let’s call them civil unions.'” Francis said in the interview.

And since marriage equality is out of the question, according to Francis, how can the LGBTQ community trust him to follow through on civil unions?

Pope Francis continues to command attention worldwide with his liberal-leaning pronouncements. However, the pontiff is a complicated, if not confusing, figure to the LGBTQ community, because Francis is not a reformer. On the surface, Francis displays a pastoral countenance to his papacy that seemingly extends to our community, while cloaking the iron-fisted Church bureaucratic that he is.

In truth, his welcoming tone doesn’t match up with the unwelcoming church policies he upholds — especially when it comes to “the family of God” — meaning LGBTQ Catholics, too.

Pope Francis has shown to be the consummate flip-flopper who has been consistent in his inconsistency toward us. In 2013, he set off global shock waves with a comment made while flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil, responding to a question about a possible “gay lobby” in the Vatican.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said.

“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good,” Francis also added.

That public statement was the most LGBTQ-affirmative one the world had ever heard from the Roman Catholic Church. It was partly in response to The Advocate, a nationally renowned LGBTQ magazine, naming Pope Francis their 2013 “Person of the Year.”

However, since 2013, Francis has come out of the closet — displaying his true feelings concerning the LGBTQ community, and especially his denunciation of transgender rights. Would trans couples be afforded civil unions? Pope Francis has compared transgender rights to nuclear weapons, saying transgender people destroy and desecrate God’s holy and ordained order of creation.

“Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation,” Francis is quoted as saying in an interview for the 2015 book “Pope Francis: This Economy Kills,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. “With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator. The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.”

For some LGBTQ Catholics, Francis’ most recent statement is merely lip service, since the Catholic Church still excludes the LGBTQ community from officially receiving any sacraments. Since 2015, DignityUSA has been advocating for “sacramental equality” in the Catholic Church. Now, with COVID-19 hitting the LGBTQ community globally as hard as other minority communities worldwide, Francis should speak up on this urgent issue to change a homophobic church to open its heart and doors.

“It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. … [This is reminiscent of the] appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic,” Duddy-Burke said in a 2017 interview with the National Catholic Reporter. Her statement still holds true today.

Since Francis opposes marriage equality and transgender rights, what does his pronouncement endorsing civil unions really mean?

For some, it is the hope for policy change in the Church, eventually leading to marriage equality. To me, it’s lip service. Again.